The King of Tavolara – 5
To continue the story of the king of Tavolara, you have to visualize Turin now, and I can suggest the reading of the books of Carlo Fruttero and Franco Lucentini (F & L was the usual way they signed their joint works), a couple of great writers. Sorry for the literary digression, but no one else was able to describe the atmosphere and the character of this city as they did throughout the extraordinary development of their novels. You can argue that F&L were contemporary authors and wrote about a modern Turin. However, believe me, the core of this city—forget the suburbs, the crowd of immigrants, in the past coming from the South of Italy, lately from Africa, Romania and Middle East; forget the immense bankrupt areas that are monuments of industrial archaeology, a marvellous gift left by the well behaved Fiat disappearance, and the widespread spectre of a new, shocking poverty—yes, I was saying that Turin didn’t change from the nineteenth century to nowadays.
It was the capital of a kingdom never understood or loved—the dynasty of Savoy, as the name suggests, came from the West, from the modern France—and so castled in itself, closed and thus ignorant, arrogant and pervaded by a stinky, unpleasant superiority complex and, at the same time, by an unresolved syndrome of encirclement.
Moreover, focusing on the entity ‘atmosphere and character,’ the political power games bred a fauna of ass-lickers, of insuperable slimy courtesans that proliferated and overflowed more quickly than rats. “Falso e cortese,” false and affable, well behaved, is called this category of Piedmontese people.
Set all these figures in palaces that hadn’t either the joyous colours of those of Naples and Palermo, or the historical greatness of those of Florence and Rome, but were grey and sad like seventeenth century fortresses; in a cold weather, often misty. Draw a milieu of falsity these figures were forced to live with, a historical secret concerning the plebeian birth of Vittorio Emanuele—by the way, well known by everybody. Mix everything with a terrible economical situation that improved the already present elements of stinginess, the extreme reluctance to spend money and invest, and the intense and selfish desire for other’s wealth and power, at all costs.
If you need a soundtrack for this painting, use a splendid song by the Piedmontese artist Paolo Conte, one of my favourites, which recites “Con quella faccia un po’ così, quell’espressione un po’ così che abbiamo noi che abbiamo visto Genova…”, meaning that also Genoa, so close to Turin, is another world for the Piedmontese people, strange and inexplicable just because it is not Piedmontese.
Now you can understand the plumbeous ambience of the royal palace and the background of the caesarean section, the forced birth of Italy.
What did they know, those Savoy people, about Sicily and Campania, for instance? Or about the tonalities of the Mediterranean Sea, the breeze and the sun, the monuments of Rome or the Tuscany landscape? The people of the South were only ‘briganti,’ for them—the Sardinian people, well different, only monkeys, Sardignoli. That was all.
What could you expect from the Tanaca-Savoy Dynasty?
The butcher’s grandson, King Umberto I (1844–1900), in fact, triumphantly continued the traditions of the house. Not many eligible Catholic royal brides being available for him due to the conflict with the papacy, he finally married his first cousin, Margherita of Savoy. Their only son was Vittorio Emanuele (III). Umberto I was a womanizer like his father was—his relationship with the Duchessa Litta, called in Italy “la Du Barry da strapazzo” or “la Pompadour di noi altri,” remains famous—and had mistresses and lovers too, and several illegitimate children. Umberto I was heavily involved in the Banca Romana scandal and hated by the intellectuals for his conservatism (by the way, he was strongly hated by Italian population because of his greedy and colonialist actions, not because his conservatism).
He ordered general Bava Beccaris to cannonade the people of Milan who were protesting because of the famine and the hunger, killing and wounding hundreds of poor individuals. King Umberto I sent a telegram to congratulate Bava Beccaris and decorated him with the medal of Great Official of Savoy Military Order. This was our king, The God.
Going back to Sardinia, Umberto I had the brilliant idea to contend with France that was the main importer of Sardinian produces (oil, wine, wheat, fruit, etc.). France stopped all the importations from one day to the other. This decision was devastating for the Sardinian economy, so much so that the local banks went bankrupt, and the population suffered decades of famine. The economy receded to the time of basic barters.
It is not surprising that the glorious King Umberto I was so appreciated by the Italian population that he met with several assassination attempts before being eventually murdered in 1900, in Monza, by the anarchist Gaetano Bresci—who declared he wanted to avenge the people killed during the Bava-Beccaris massacre.
After the lies told about Vittorio Emanuele II, again the Piedmontese historians took great care in creating the legend of the “Re Buono,” The Good, and describing his reign as a tranquil age of well-being.
The Middle Ages did not concern Sardinia: its civilization lasted for many centuries crossing feudalism and then the Counter Reformation. The Tanaca-Savoy family (may God bless all the components of this den; it is not difficult to shoot a ray of His Brilliance and penetrate them since all of them are packed in the Superga church near Torino) took Sardinia back to the Middle Ages at the beginning of the twentieth century. In terms of wealth, industrialization, schools, illiteracy, infrastructures, and life expectancy, at the beginning of the twentieth century Sardinia was a Middle age land, considered only a criminal colony (where, in fact, the unfaithful servants of the state were sent).
So, at the conclusion of this long digression, we are facing our two contenders again: on one side Umberto I, The Good, the enlightened King of Italy, whatever ‘Italy’ meant back then; on the other side the Queen Victoria, the monarch of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland, Empress of India.
Yes, do you remember? In the early 1900, the British battleship HSM Vulcan is entering the bay of Tavolara dressing a ship overall, not a sign of greeting, but the notice of a future confrontation.
See you next time.